Pali shooting trial to start
A professional fighter will be the first tried in two men's deaths
Nearly four years after three men were gunned down in a brazen daylight shooting at the Pali Golf Course, the first suspect is set for trial beginning today in Circuit Court.
Rodney Joseph Jr., 36, was one of three men indicted in the Jan. 7, 2004, attack in which two men were fatally shot and the third seriously injured in what police described as a confrontation between two rival groups providing security at illegal game rooms in Honolulu.
Also indicted and awaiting trial are Ethan "Malu" Motta of Hilo and Kevin "Pancho" Gonsalves of Waianae.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys declined to discuss the case because of the pending trial.
Joseph, a professional fighter, will go to trial after Circuit Judge Michael Town granted a request by Gonsalves and Motta to be tried separately. That would enable Gonsalves and Motta to use at trial statements by Joseph they thought were favorable to them.
Town had ruled early on that Joseph's statement to detectives would not be admissible at trial because his then-attorney did not effectively advise him of his constitutional right to remain silent. The state appealed the decision, and the Hawaii Supreme Court affirmed Town's ruling.
Town also suppressed evidence concerning the disposal of the firearms allegedly used in the shooting because the information was derived from Joseph's statement. The firearms or whatever remained of them were never recovered.
Police, however, did recover some ammunition.
Prosecutors said earlier that Joseph's statement would not affect prosecution of the case because it was "self-serving" and that witnesses and forensic evidence recovered from the scene will show what happened that day.
Jury selection is expected to last at least two to three weeks because of the amount of publicity the case has generated.
The shooting and increasing tension between rival groups that provide security at illegal game rooms on Oahu caught the attention of federal law enforcement officials, who were concerned that the groups were seeking control of organized crime statewide.
In February 2006, a little more than two years after the shooting, a federal grand jury brought gambling, extortion and racketeering charges against Joseph, Gonsalves and several others. Murder and attempted-murder charges followed a month later against Joseph, Motta and Gonsalves.
The U.S. attorney general announced earlier this year that he was not authorizing the death penalty in that case. The federal trial is expected to follow the state trial. Trial for Gonsalves and Motta is expected to follow in state court.
Killed in the Pali shootings were Lepo Taliese, also known as Lepo Utu, 44, and Romelius Corpuz, 40. Corpuz's brother, Tinoimalu Sao, 42, survived and is expected to testify.
Joseph is charged with first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder and various firearm offenses. If convicted of first-degree murder, he faces life imprisonment without parole.